Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for violence, bloodshed and mature themes
Run Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Tom Hanks sheds some attitude – and lots of hair – to reprise his role as ace Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, whose keen knowledge of ancient Catholic history makes him ideally suited to the latest Vatican conflict.
It begins with a monumental collision of science and religion that remains the film’s central theme. At a secret Swiss lab international scientists have achieved the impossible by creating a powerful and dangerous energy source known as antimatter. At the conclusion of their hazardous trials their lead physicist is found brutally murdered in his lab.
At the same time Rome is mourning the death of their beloved Pope while the four cardinals who make up the omnipotent “preferiti” (the preferred elects who may ascend to the papacy) have been secretly kidnapped. A note left in their place links the kidnapping to the ancient society of brotherhood known as the Illuminati.
Rome summons Professor Langdon (mid-swim and looking fit) who is joined by Vittoria Vetri (Ayelet Zurer) a sexy Italian scientist with insider knowledge of the antimatter and its deadly potential. Oh and by the way the prized capsule of incendiary matter is hidden somewhere in the city and will annihilate violently unless it is found.
Gentlemen start your engines. Once established the narrative kicks off a crazy roundelay of eerie hidden catacombs, high-tempo pursuits and thorny medieval codes not to mention anxious Cardinals in the throes of Conclave, a perky Pope’s assistant (Ewan McGregor as the cherubic Camerlengo Patrick) and the sinister stylings of the rabidly conventional Swiss Guard led by chief watchdog Commander Richter (the consistently impressive Stellan Skarsgard).
Hanks plays it cool as Langdon, an easygoing intellectual for whom cracking the world’s greatest symbolic mysteries is a walk in the park. Along with Vetri he almost manages to stay a step ahead of the madman who threatens to pick off a Cardinal an hour and blow the Vatican to kingdom come.
This is action-thriller stuff, not brain surgery, and Hanks knows it and shows it. Director Ron Howard does not disappoint when it comes to popcorn thrills – frenetic chases, kinetic explosions and the kind of nine-lives scenarios that make for head-scratching contingencies. Not surprisingly the plot – though stuffed to the gills with papal politics and melodramatic conspiracy – is a one-dimensional affair loaded with commonplace distractions that never catch fire the way Dan Brown’s prose managed so effortlessly (albeit outrageously) on the page.